Maryland’s Montgomery County and Howard County are among the nation’s most religiously diverse, according to a seven-year survey of more than 500,000 U.S. adults released Thursday by the District-based Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).
Politically, Christianity in one form or another dominates both parties: 69% of Democrats and 83% of Republicans identify as Christian.
However, 68% of Republicans identify as White Christians, while only 39% of Democrats identify as such. Only 14% of non-White Christians said they are Republicans, versus 32% who say they’re Democrats.
“Analysis of the religious identities of the two political parties reveals an increasingly homogeneous Republican Party, comprised overwhelmingly of white Christians, even as the country continues to become more diverse,” Robert P. Jones, founder and CEO of PRRI, said in a statement.
“In terms of racial and religious diversity, self-identified Democrats look like 30-year-old America, whereas Republicans look like 70-year-old America,” he added.
Although the White Christian share of the population declined to 42% in 2018, the PRRI survey said the trend had slowed, with the White Christian headcount up to 44% by 2020. The group said increases in the number of White mainline Protestants and a stabilization of the White Catholic population account for the slight uptick.
Similarly, while the number of religiously unaffiliated had jumped from 19% in 2012 to 26% in 2018, the number of so-called “nones” dropped slightly to 23% last year.
Among Americans aged 18 to 29, 38% of whom said they had no religious affiliation in 2016, that number also dropped two percentage points, to 36% in 2020.
But it is perhaps in the county-by-county mapping of religious diversity that the PRRI study, where observers will find some of the most interesting results.
The organization said counties in and around urban areas are the most religiously diverse, and therefore it may be no surprise that Montgomery County, adjacent to the District, and neighboring Howard County, which includes Columbia and Ellicott City among other areas, are on the “top ten” list of such counties.
The average religious diversity score among all U.S. counties is 0.625, with 1 representing “complete diversity” where every religious community is of equal size, PRRI said. Montgomery County comes in at 0.880, with Howard County at 0.863. Three of New York City’s five boroughs are also on the list: Kings County (Brooklyn) at number one with a score of 0.897, Queens County at 0.896, and New York County (Manhattan) at 0.868.
Clarke County, Mississippi, population 15,604, had the lowest diversity score of any U.S. county at 0.031.
Jews comprise 9% of Montgomery County residents, the fourth-largest segment by county in the U.S., with New York State’s Rockland County, home to several ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, showing an 18% Jewish population. The PRRI survey said the median age of Jewish American adults is 48, younger than most Christian groups but also older than other non-Christian populations here.
Some 5% of American Muslims are found in Queens County, New York, but 3% are found in Montgomery County, according to PRRI. The 33-year-old median age of American Muslim adults is “among the youngest of all religious groups.”
America’s Hindu population, less than 1% of the total U.S. population in 2020, are found in and near large metropolitan areas, the PRRI survey found. Among the top ten counties for Hindu population is Loudoun County, Virginia, where 3% of residents are Hindu.
“The religious makeup of an area has a considerable impact on life experiences for Americans,” said PRRI research director Natalie Jackson, in a statement. “We see some trends continuing, like the continued decline and aging of white evangelical Protestants. We are also seeing shifts in others, such as a leveling out in the religiously unaffiliated and a rebound among white mainline Protestants,” she added.
PRRI said its survey was funded in 2020 with grants from the Arcus Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Gill Foundation, and the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock.
The entire survey results can be found online at the PRRI site.